Nonfiction — print. Terrace Books, 2009. 210 pgs. Free from Sociology Dept.
Although this memoir is subtitled “A Jewish Writer Returns to the World His Parents Escaped”, Raphael’s book is more about discovering and shaping his identity as a Jew, gay man, and writer under the fact that his parents were Holocaust survivors, which makes himself a member of the Second Generation. In fact, the journey to Germany and his confrontation of the country he was raised to hate does not begin until the last third of the book.
Despite this, Raphael’s memoir about his own identity crisis and what happened to his parents under the Nazis was fascinating. I’ve become interested in the confrontation of the memory of the Holocaust by the second Generation after talking with grandchildren of the Holocaust survivors about the use of the swastika in Southeast Asian culture, and was pleasantly surprised when the majority of this book was spent addressing the questions of how one confronts and lives with the memories of what your parents (and grandparents) survived, and how there is always that wish to know and not know what your parents experienced.
“They lived in the shadow of the Holocaust and Germany. We lived in their shadow far more than was typical for immigrant children. Their lives were monumental and — because not entirely known — mysterious. Our lives were insignificant. Nothing we suffered or accomplished could match their having survived” (pg. 82).
His description of how difficult it was to build his own identity separated from the memories of his parents was very interesting. He also discussed his parents’ reactions to his decision to write about what it means to be a member of the Second Generation.
“We wanted to know more because we felt it would make out parents more real, give us at least something of their lives and history. But what to do with such horrible knowledge? How to bear it?” (pg. 59)
Ironically enough, the original reason why I picked up this book didn’t paly out the way I thought it would and I found myself slightly bored with his book tour through Germany. The epilogue and Raphael’s final conclusions are interesting, but I didn’t really see the correspondence between his revised thoughts of Germany and his travels through the country. But this only a small part of the tale, and the book is still worth a read. Overall, I found it very interesting.